|Santa Claus has special affinity for RP
Dean Becker relishes playing role of St. Nick during holiday season
Warning to all those in close vicinity to children, young readers and the young at heart: this article has enough secrets to ruin Christmas for the young and innocent, but also has just enough cheer to make some cynical, Grinch-like hearts grow three times their once shrunken sizes.
The Christmas legends always say Santa Claus is only supposed to leave the North Pole once a year – on Christmas Eve – to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls of the world who believe. Here at Rohnert Park, though, we know this isn’t true, for this whole month Santa has been up and down the streets and at the library and parks, too.
20 years and counting as Santa
Dean Becker has worked for the city of Rohnert Park in the Dept. of Public Safety for nearly 22 years now. He works on rotation for the police and fire departments and seems to have a tender spot in his heart for the children of his community. Before the program was lost in recent budget cuts, he taught DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) at the elementary schools.
And, for the last 20 years, he has played Santa Claus in Rohnert Park, donning a dry-clean-only red suite, white (sometimes opera) gloves and scratchy curly beard and all for the RP Public Safety Officers Association annual Santa Sleigh Toy Drive.
“It’s really great to go out there and see all the kids, see them line up to see Santa,” Becker said about his seasonal work. “They’re so excited and they can’t wait to see Santa.”
He explained watching the children and their different reactions to meeting Santa Claus as his favorite part of his role as Jolly Old St. Nick. According to Becker, sometimes the kids can’t contain themselves (he’s heard wish-lists that include everything from ponies and puppies to even dirt) and sometimes kids who are so overwhelmed by the sight of Santa that they forget their wish list entirely. Often times, they cry and rush back to Mom’s arms. Every so often, though, he is greeted by the skeptics, the children who frown at Becker and ask very evenly, “Are you the real Santa?”
This Santa is real enough
“I tell them, ‘I’m the real Santa tonight,’” said Becker, “and that usually seems enough for them.”
Becker grew up in Chicago where he remembers wanting to be a police officer and the Christmas traditions his father seemed determined on keeping. He said he remembers enjoying the holiday and believing in Santa Claus faithfully until he was 7 or 8 years old. His family’s one Christmas rule was no one was allowed to open presents until the entire family was out of bed on Christmas morning.
His father, Becker remembers, would wake up at the crack of dawn every day of the year—except for Christmas, when he seemed to delight in making Becker wait painfully until 9 a.m.
Drawn in by sense of community
In 1983, Becker visited a friend who lived in Rohnert Park and fell quickly in love with the town.
He said he appreciated, and still does appreciate, the city’s sense of community and how easy it was to get involved in said community. In 1986, he realized his life-long ambition of becoming a police officer when he began work for RPDPS.
Thus far, the only complaint about the Santa Claus gig Becker was sharing was not being able to grow a real Santa beard, having to need to keep clean shaven for safety reasons when working for the fire department.
Becker said he remembers becoming Santa very casually; the police chief at the time simply asked Becker and his coworkers if anyone would be willing to play the part. Becker volunteered and the rest is Rohnert Park Christmas history.
“It’s fun, but I draw the line at the Easter Bunny,” said Becker.
He has, however, gone as a clown to a DARE class in honor of Halloween.
In the last 20 years, there has only been one year that Becker has not played Santa and that was not his choice, nor was he pleased with the vacation.
The Christmas time off was because of a back injury, one that the safety department did not want to provoke any further with Becker lifting children onto his lap.
Even though he was not Santa, Becker still went out that year on his Santa Float to help with the Toy Drive.
Lessons in patience
From his years as Santa, Becker has learned a unique patience for children – some who cry, or list every item in Toys R Us that they want – and for their parents, who often want a picture of their child with Santa from every possible angle. He has dealt with kids wetting themselves, houses full of partiers who all want pictures with Santa and even dog bites. But he has also witnessed children’s faces and spirits lighting up with excitement and neighbors all coming out of their houses, standing together for this one holiday tradition.
Becker lives in Rohnert Park with his wife. The two never had children, but are very fond of their beagle, Daisy.
Daisy, or any other dog for that matter, is not allowed to sit on Santa’s sleigh with Becker, but Becker did buy her a brand-new doggie-Santa suit of her own this year.